Diving down into the murky blue waters off Cape Douglas in South Australia's south east one morning last year, Carl von Stanke came across a ghost.
Last seen in 1855, the Iron Age was a steel-hulled barque on its maiden voyage from England when the crew ran into trouble in heavy seas near the south-east coastline. The ship's crew managed to get to safety, but the brand new vessel sank below the surface.
After 160 years at the bottom of the ocean, all that is left is the rough outline of the ship's wooden hull, buried in the silt and the odd brick left over from its ballast. For the 18-year-old shipwreck hunter, witnessing it for the first time was a moment of delight and reward. With a knack for research and with nearly 10 years of diving experience under his belt, it is not the first wreck the Mount Gambier teenager has discovered — nor will it be his last.
During the last few years, Mr von Stanke has been working with the State Heritage Unit and Adelaide university researchers to rediscover and document the wreck of the Hawthorn, which sank in Bucks Bay in 1949.
He also believes he has found the 1892 wreck of the Lotus, lying near the coast of Port Macdonnell.
"That was accidental," he said, with a grin. According to Mr von Stanke, it is not only time and extensive research, but a combination of good weather and simple luck required to stumble across a ship's remains.
Rattling off names including the Adelaide, Witness, Galatea and the Prince of Wales, Mr von Stanke has a long list of the region's undiscovered shipwrecks firmly imprinted in his mind.
He smiles when asked if he would like to find those ships, many lost at sea in the 19th century. "I wouldn't mind it," he said. "I just enjoy finding things."